Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Second Flight

We took off just after 1:30 pm, and it was hot. I had already spent most of the day at the hangar installing the Garmin 295. There's a guy a couple of hangars over that just finished his RV-6 after 14 years of building. He had some scrap aluminum to use to make a mount, so he cut that out for me, drilled it, bolted the back of the Garmin mount to it, loaned me his drill and sent me off to install it. That took an hour and a trip to Lowes, and the wiring took another half hour. I'm going to have to re-do the wiring though. In flight, the GPS was whining about its external power gowing away every few seconds. I'm going to have to wire it to the primary 12 VDC bus, but that's too far away for the wire I have now. I'm going to need a patch wire to splice onto it so I can get it wired to the main 12 volt source.

The takeoff was so-so. Paved runways are just not my friends right now. We flew out west for a few minutes so I could get the feel of the plane again, then turned back for Columbus-Southwest to try a few landings and takeoffs on grass. The first few landings were real bouncers, which is unfortunate since my mechanic and his crew from the airport were standing there watching. Ah well, he has a taildragger he so he knows what's it's like to learn to land one.

Bolton was landing on runway 4, which increases the amount of traffic on the west side of the airport. Since Columbus-Southwest is only a couple of miles to the west of Bolton, the instructor decided to go to another grass airport he knew of. This one was just southwest of Bolton, and it only took a few minutes to get there. The runway has a large stand of trees at one end, so normal policy is to land towards the trees and take off away from them. This provided a tailwind of 5 to 8 knots on landing. The instructor earned his pay on this one - he had to apply a significant amount of rudder on final. Without his input, I may have wrecked the plane. This again proves why the insurance companies were reluctant to insure a pilot with 0 hours tailwheel time in a tailwheel airplane. It also explains why they were so particular as to the experience level of the instructor. I've come to believe that you can't be taught how to land a taildragger. You have to learn it yourself, but you have to have someone there that can pull your fat out of the fire until you do.

We visited with the owners of the strip, Jim & Dondi Miller. We toured his hangar and marvelled at all the neat aviation stuff he has. His plane is a Stearman biplane, and there's a Waco biplane parked right next to it. There's a Harley-Davidson cruiser, probably a classic, parked in front of the Stearman. There's a living space to the side, with a full kitchen, a huge relaxation room, zillions of cool pictures and artifacts, and two big dogs. Simply an incredible place! That said, there was a time, no more than a couple of years ago, when I would have been seriously envious. Oddly enough, today I wasn't. With my new house only a mile from the hangar, and the RV-6 to bring back the challenge of flying, I didn't really look at all that stuff with any kind of longing at all.

We took off out of there with no problem, and decided to circle back and land over the trees. On final I could only see half on the runway beyond the trees. The instructor suggested staying a little high over the trees in case we hit a downdraft and slipping away the extra altitude once we were clear of them. I've always liked forward slips and did them regularly in the Tampico. In a forward slip, you apply aileron (sidewise movement of the control stick) in one direction, and rudder in the opposite direction. This crabs the plane, and the side of the fuselage acts as a big speed brake. You don't want to slow down, though, so you lower the nose to maintain airpseed. This allows you to lose height rapidly without gaining a lot of airspeed.

We came over the trees and I moved the stick to the left and pushed hard on the right rudder. We came down like a rock until we were about 50 feet above the ground. I released the rudder and centered the stick and slowed our descent. It's a strong testimony to the feeling of control I have in this plane that I would hold a slip that long. Usually in the Tampico I'd only slip down to 200 feet. The difference between the Tampico and the RV-6 seems like what you'd feel if you moved from a Buick sedan to a Miata.

We took off again and followed I-71 down to a grass airport named Port-O-John. This one had a more more narrow runway than we had been using, and had the distraction of being right next to I-71. Maybe that focused my concentration a bit more because it was the best landing I had made yet. Straight down the runway, no swerves. Whooo-hoo! The takeoff was just as good. So, back to Bolton to try the paved beast again.

How did it go? I don't want to talk about it.

I've gotten into the habit of post-flight inspecting the plane. I never really had to do that with the Tampico. But the RV-6 has just come out of annual, and things will usually vibrate loose for the first few hours. The radio vibrated out enough to lose its connection while we were out flying, for example. There were also a couple of loose screws after the first flight. This time, though, there was actual damage.

The right wheel pant had broken through the bolt and washer that holds it onto the wheel nut. It hadn't hit anything, but all the zigging and zagging back and forth on the paved runways was probably enough to roll the tire over to rub on it. I went ahead and took it and the left side off. I probably won't put them back on until I go to Oshkosh. It costs 5 - 10 mph to leave them off, but I'm weeks away from going any significant distance.

I put the plane back in the hangar, cleaned off the bugs, and grabbed a brew from the fridge. I sat on the couch and just stared at the plane while I enjoyed the breeze, the cold beer, and the sounds of the airport. I'm sure enjoying my vacation!

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